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Nigeria and Egypt are among the biggest countries in Africa in terms of population, economy and potentials but the volume and value of trade between them is low. In this interview, the Ambassador of Arab Republic of Egypt to Nigeria, Mr Aseem Muhammed Hanafi Elseify, who submitted his Letter of Credence to President Muhammadu Buhari lask week, expresses concern on lack of transportation links among African countries which he said contributes to poor intra-African trade. Excerpts:

 Daily Trust: Nigeria and Egypt established diplomatic relations decades ago. How would you assess the cooperation between both countries at the moment?

Ambassador Aseem Hanafi: Nigeria and Egypt are two pillars of Africa and have had good relations since the 1960s. The bilateral relation between both countries is excellent, both presidents enjoy cordial ties. The big Egypt diplomatic mission here in Nigeria and that of Nigeria in Cairo are testimonies to the fraternal relations between both countries. We have direct flight with Nigeria, more than any other country in Africa. Egypt Air flies to three different destinations in Nigeria. And of course the extent of people-to-people interaction and affection is a cause for delight. 

My assessment of the relation is very positive and I’m here to enhance the ties in any way possible that will benefit the two countries. On technical cooperation, we are offering training in health, agriculture, energy, media and counter-terrorism to Nigerian officials. All these are areas that are currently enjoying very fruitful cooperation.

DT: Economic relations are relatively low. In what way do you intend to improve it?

Hanafi: Of course the trade relation has to be commensurate with the big populations. Egypt and Nigeria have big and young populations and large consumer markets. The trade has to be commensurate with that. There are ways to improve trade, which, at the current level, is not very satisfactory, I have to admit that. Therefore, we have to find ways to improve trade by encouraging more investors from both countries, improving transportation and making it cheaper. This will incentivize the business community and trade will prosper. This is what my commercial office in Lagos is trying to do.

DT: Africa has the lowest figure of intra-continental trade in the world with its members posting just 12% of trading with one another. What do you think should be done to improve intra-Africa trade?

Hanafi: The legal framework has to be enforced and the investment environment has to be accommodating to African business people to encourage them to trade with one another. Infrastructure is a problem in Africa. If an African citizen wants to go to country ‘B’ in Africa, usually he will have to go to a third country. So, the transportation links have to be there and cheaper for trade to improve. And of course there is a culture of getting used to African trade. Business people in the continent are used to trading with China and Western nations. It is time they get used to Africa and start having substantial part of their investments in Africa, although this will take time. The governments also have to encourage legislations to have more transparency in transactions, meaning that we have accountability for our dealings in various countries. There is need to have the transportation issue resolved. The Maritime sector has to be encouraged within the various ports with guarantees and insurance.

DT: Is Egypt considering issuing visa on arrival any time soon?

Hanafi: I have discussed with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC) and was encouraged by the policy to encourage investors into the country. In our mission here, we ensure that business people with commercial links with Egypt are issued visa immediately without any recourse to delay. This is something we have to expand once we are certain that the applicant has genuine business dealings with the Egyptian business community. Now, we give business people immediate and extended visa till they have their residency in Egypt. We have a new investment law now, investment zones and free zones and a very favourable exchange rate. The investment climate now is very conducive to investors.

DT: Nigeria and Egypt, among other African countries are battling with terrorism. What is the level of security cooperation between both countries?

Hanafi: When I was honoured to have a discussion with President Muhammadu Buhari, this was one of the issues we discussed, the security threat is not only to Nigeria and Egypt but also to the entire world. The global community now is suffering from the scourge of terrorism. Terrorism is linked to many criminal activities, money laundering, trafficking in arms and damaging infrastructure and their impact cannot be underestimated. We partner with Nigeria in fighting terrorism. Security officials of both countries exchange ideas and experience. This is a very good way to harmonise our collaboration against the terrorist groups. I’m very satisfied at the level of security cooperation at the moment.

DT: President Buhari called for intelligent sharing across borders to curb global terrorism, what is your take on this?

Hanafi: Exchange of information and intelligence is very important. The value of real-time information exchange can save lives if there is movement of terrorists or suspicious elements. If this is boosted, it can be a big blow to terrorism. Thankfully, we have this channel underway between our two countries. This is an example for other African countries to emulate.

DT: There is a report circulating on social media about the theft of human organs in some Egyptian hospitals. How do you react to this?

Hanafi: The clinics involved are in remote areas and they have been shut down and the officials are undergoing prosecution. We will like the media to highlight this fact as a testimony of how the government is countering such activities. We have accredited centres for kidney transplant operation and we urge Nigerians going for such operation to use only the accredited centres. The medical system in Egypt is one of the best in Africa and the government takes due diligence to have these centres under scrutiny.

DT: Egypt has been offering scholarships to Nigerian students for years, what is your country’s assessment of their performance?

Hanafi: Education is an investment and we offer scholarships to Nigerians and we are eager to increase the number in our various institutions. Nigerians are the third highest beneficiaries of scholarships in Egypt. There are three to five thousand Nigerians currently studying not only in Al-Azhar but also other universities in Egypt. Their performance has been very satisfactory, majority of them are serious students. When they return to Nigeria, I sit with them and they are delighted having their education in Egypt. They are a source of pride to all of us, not only Egyptians. This is the most fruitful and viable investment that we can have, educating and empowering them to realize their full potentials and contributing meaningfully to the development of Nigeria.

DT: Since your posting to Nigeria as head of mission, how would you describe your stay in the country?

Hanafi: Nigeria is one of the countries dear to my heart. I have served in many countries before as a career diplomat. I’m really honoured to be the ambassador of my country to Nigeria. I’m very impressed about the vigour and dynamism of Nigerian people, the very rich diversity of the country and I’m really satisfied with my stay here and I am also learning as I go along.

DT: What would you like to be remembered for after your tour of duty in Nigeria?

Hanafi: I’m doing my best to undertake my work diligently. Nigeria is a big country. I would like to have more educational opportunities for Nigerians, to have more investments and trade and best practices shared between both countries. The collaboration is very important at this particular stage now. Well, we yearn for better future for development and peace. I humbly would like to contribute to this aspiration and I’m counting on all my team and Nigerians to help me on this task.

Source:Daily Trust

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